a dozen red flags meme

You Saw the Red Flags, Right? Why We Lean In When We Should Leave

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Sometimes there are things in our life that override our early-warning systems. The red flags in a new partner are obvious, and we still move forward with them.

Speaking of Red Flags, Here Are a Deadly Dozen

  1. does not make an effort to book time with me
  2. has young kids and expresses overwhelm often
  3. is way to into their job, their workouts, their bodies, their *whatever*
  4. is a bit unhinged sexually (seems like a good thing at first)
  5. does not disagree well (uses sarcasm and passive-aggressive patterns)
  6. dishes out a lot of sarcasm (could it be cynicism?)
  7. has been divorced or single for a short period of time
  8. is so beautiful that you feel excited and triggered at the same time
  9. doesn’t listen very well
  10. knows what “attachment theory” is and claims to be “insecure and avoidant”
  11. seems to be running an agenda of some kind, but you can’t quite identify it
  12. wants all of my time without boundaries

What Is Attractive About Unstable People?

There is *some* attraction I have to unavailable or unevolved women. As if, I’d rather have a “project” than a solid and modestly attractive partner. I was asked recently, “Well, she seems balanced and mature. Do her availability and maturity scare you? She could really be an edge for you.”

My friend had a point. It wasn’t as if I went after unavailable women, but it was true that my last several relationships had started with obvious signs and warnings that time and attention were going to be hard to come by. Let’s see if we can identify them, these fiddly bits that I seem to stumble over.

In random order of appearance (to protect the innocent)

  • had young children and presented as frazzled and chaotic
  • drank too much
  • was full of sexual abandon and risk
  • exhibited some deep form of codependence
  • had not been in a long-term relationship for over 10-years
  • enjoyed talking about their former lesbian lovers (as a tease or a threat, I was unable to decipher either of these women’s motivations for their random ‘my girlfriend and I did this’ sharing

Attractive Yet Distant and Mysterious

There is something haunting and mysterious about a woman who cannot commit or give you their time. They leave you wanting more. And it’s not more because things are so simple and healthy, it’s more because you are aching to figure out what’s going on, to define and determine if you are in a relationship that has potential or a disaster. In my case, I’d say two of the three were absolute disasters. I did LEARN a lot, but I’m not interested in high growth. I am interested in building a relationship that will stand the test of time and struggle. Not anxious struggle and not avoidant scheduling problems, but a conscious and connected relationship.

And still… I go in after these damaged women with the energy and joy of a magician. Each time, I came away with a broken heart and a damaged spirit. “If this woman loved me, she would make time for me. If she loved me, she would drink less. If she loved me, there would not be a struggle every time we tried to talk about things.”

So, what is it that drives us to chase an unhealthy partner? Is it our past relationships with narcissistic or unavailable partners? Is it some allure of their mixed mental states that mirror some of our own unpredictable highs and lows? Or, is it more exciting to be with someone who’s always in an emotional crisis or existential challenge?

What If Your Next Partner Were 100% Available?

Okay, I’ll admit this one is scary for me. Sure, I’ve been asking for an available and healthy partner for the last 11 years. (SEE: Single Dad Seeks) I’ve been writing love letters, I’ve been writing articles about healthy partnerships, and BRAVING, and love languages. And still… I have been picking women who were fractured and avoidant through behaviors and choices made to move *away* from their connection with me.

Let say, for the sake of argument, that I’m in a relationship with a woman who seems to be free of major red flags. A woman who says she’s interested in me and has the time to invest in building a relationship with me. A woman who shows signs of having a healthy approach to relationship-building. (How many times have a written something similar about a new emerging relationship? And somehow things don’t work out. WTF?)

When the woman shows up I’d better pay attention. My own defenses are getting triggered from time to time by the healthy patterns that seem unfamiliar. One of my friends said, “She would be a real edge for you. That’s why you are scared. What if she was the partner you’ve been looking for all these years?”

When You Find the One Will You Fk It Up?

I’ve got to practice some serious self-awareness at this point in the growing partnership. Sure, there are things that aren’t perfect, but most of the irritations for me are little, mundane, issues, and not major fractures. We’re building something. And, sure, I’m looking for the cracks. I’m sensing some sort of “shoe ready to drop” but it’s all in my mind at this point. It’s like PTSD from my past relationships. I don’t really recognize when I meet a healthy partner.

And what if she leaned in too? What if she loved spending time with me? And what if she had a lot of available time?

Sure, it’s what I want. AND… It’s terrifying. As a writer, musician, and generally creative person, I need my alone time to continue to be productive. I need nights off. In my marriage, these became a fight. I had to negotiate an evening to work in my music studio. I had to justify my naps on a weekend. I will not tolerate a relationship that made napping a core disconnect.

What if this woman also napped well?

Oh shit, she’s up. XOXO


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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